InTrans / Jan 24, 2024

Pedestrian safety design considering winter maintenance

Pedestrian walkway across a median refuge island

Pedestrian safety treatments can present a challenge to winter maintenance operations—and maintenance efforts in general—based on their designs and characteristics.

To ensure that pedestrian treatment designs consider winter maintenance issues, recent research sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) identified best practices for designing pedestrian safety countermeasures that are compatible with effective winter maintenance operations while still reducing the risks of crashes and other incidents.

“This research highlighted the need to consider maintenance implications when designing pedestrian infrastructure near roadways, and the results provide agencies with a solid starting point when considering safety treatments,” said David Veneziano, Iowa LTAP safety circuit rider who also led the MnDOT research project.

The research studied seven pedestrian countermeasures including curb ramps, crosswalk markings, smaller corner radii, curb extensions, refuge islands, speed humps, and raised crosswalks. These countermeasures were selected since they help to reduce vehicle-pedestrian conflicts and crashes, but their impacts on winter maintenance operations can be overlooked during the selection and design process.

Not only were the pedestrian treatments studied for their relationship to winter maintenance operations and equipment but also year-round maintenance operations.

Ultimately, the researchers developed the following recommendations:

  • Discuss design plans for pedestrian safety features with maintenance personnel early in the process
  • Incorporate dedicated snow storage locations and capacity into the design, if needed
  • Carefully consider the durability of decorative or other features used for visual appeal
  • Ensure sufficient maintenance staff resources and establish hierarchies of snow and ice removal priorities for pedestrian facilities
  • Clarify and codify responsibilities and time frames for winter maintenance of pedestrian safety features

Additionally, the final report includes a table that will aid agencies and decision-makers in selecting the appropriate countermeasures and summarizes the tradeoffs between keeping pedestrians safe and maintaining the infrastructure itself. The table includes the seven safety features considered, their safety benefits, winter maintenance costs, and general costs.

Prior to this research, which included reviewing agency practices throughout the country including several Iowa and Minnesota communities, there had been an absence of specific documentation, discussion, or common policies for best design practices, guidance, and solutions for pedestrian safety countermeasures with year-round maintenance in mind.

Agency policies and plans have largely concentrated on sidewalks and who will conduct winter maintenance (i.e., property owners vs. governments) and the timeline in which it should be completed as opposed to discussing designs that can assist in encouraging or facilitating that maintenance.

The final report and associated technical summary are available at the project page.